Surely there should be no surprise at all about Labour’s latest breach of the rules on donating to political parties. After all, it’s an easy thing to do. You want to give money to a political party but don’t want to admit that you have done it, so what’s the obvious thing to do? Give the money to someone else who then donates it on your behalf. It is so simple to do, and need only involve two people having knowledge of the arrangement. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out that it has happened before and in other parties too.
What surprises me most of all though is how amateurish it has all been. The people picked to give the donations have no track record of donating to Labour, their lifestyles suggest that they wouldn’t have that amount of money to give away, they told lots of people about the arrangement, and they were people who didn’t know what to say when the media came knocking at the door. It is obvious to assume that journalists look at the list of large donors, and will be interested in any new names they haven’t seen before. The amateurism of it then gets worse when Labour go on to say that they didn’t know it was illegal, when anyone who has even the slightest involvement with reporting party donations will know that it is either (a) illegal, or (b) not in the spirit of the law, which should then make you check it with someone who does know the law.
But despite this, I do have some sympathy for David Abrahams when he says that people who want to donate to political parties these days are treated as if they are a criminal. The vast majority of donors give money to political parties because they support what that party stand for and want to help it be successful. It’s all very honest and altruistic. Whilst I support the law as it stands, because transparency in politics is important, there is a logical argument that what people do with their own money is up to them and surely if you want to give money to a political party without everyone in the world knowing that it has come from you, is perfectly reasonable. In fact in the current case, there is no doubt that David Abrahams is a legitimate donor, it is just that he chosen to use an illegal way of giving the money so as to retain his privacy.
I have had discussions with non political activists who have said that every donation should be declared and go on the public record, no matter how large or small, just so that there is complete transparency. But it is worth remembering that the vast majority of donations are small and come from ordinary people who don’t want to shout about their politics and live ordinary lives on a middle to low income. They could well be one of your next-door neighbours. Not only is it fair that people should be allowed to keep small donations private, but we also have to consider what lengths a party should have to go to, to check that a donation is legal? It is hard enough finding treasurers for all types of voluntary organisations, but if you strengthen the laws on donating to political parties even further, can you imagine how difficult it will be for local political parties to find anyone to do such an onerous and legally difficult job?
In this case, Labour made a stupid mistake, and one where it was easy for them to be caught. They should pay the penalty for that, but the latest scandal should not be an excuse for tightening up the donation rules even further.